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Justice Studies

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: July 5, 2000
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

From Criminal Justice to Justice Studies

This material was taken from the Distributive Justice course, in response to a Kent State Survey on a shift in orientation in its Criminal Justice Program to Justice Studies.

Department and broader perspective of justice:

Gives greater depth to the program, since it provides many perspectives, including that of the non-normative member of the community. Even for students who are relatively certain of a career goal in corrections, the importance of understanding crime and normative prescriptions as conflict-based as well as consensus-based is an important factor to critical thinking with respect to decisions they will have to make as part of their work. Also, the broader orientation makes the course work far more applicable to the roles that other students will eventually play in relation to the criminal justice system. Working out such issues in this broader framework becomes practice for engaging in public discourse on these issues in the future.

Of course, I have a colleague who doesn't believe I should be allowed to mention the word "justice," even in the phrase "criminal justice."

Why support justice studies perspective:

The justice studies orientation recognizes the interdependent nature of social and criminal justice, recognizes the need to look beyond ways and procedures for operating within constraints to the values and normative conditions that underlie those constraints. The justice studies approach also recognizes the interdependence of individual and community perspectives, and operates "with" community members instead of "on" or "for" community members. I find that the justice studies approach also establishes a niche for theoretical understanding on a much broader scope by including peacemaking, essentialism, gender issues, race issues, as integral components of overall criminal justice theory.

Reasons for including:

  • Philosophy and theories of j.- provides depth, and means of linking concepts across areas, provides awareness of means/ends orientation and values
  • Distribution of Wealth - provides constructs for understanding "privilege" and the privileging of subjectivity
  • Civil Rights - opportunityand need to explore other lifeworlds
  • Internatinal justice - balancing of local vs. cosmopolitan interests, and means to look at ultimate meaning of "sovereignty"
  • Environmental justice - chance to translate cosmopolitan interests to resources that local perspective may not include. What does it mean to endanger a species or a balanced ecological setting?
  • Civil justice and conflict resolution - provides opportunity to explore structural violence and non-violent responses to perceived structural violence
  • Criminal justice - the community's power to physically enforce normative standards deals constantly with the tension between the individual, groups of individuals, and the overall community.

Other units you would include:

  • Structural or institutional violence - need to provide a theoretical orientation, particularly for gender, race, and class material to the concept of harm to another without purposive intent to harm. In teaching this I follow material on "institutional racism."
  • Connections between law and justice - unit in which I focus on law as a structural tool, and the exigencies of transposing results in law to the more interpretative approaches to justice.
  • How much of the introductory course should go to justice studies topics and how much to traditional criminal justice topics?

    Depends on the department's goal for the course. If a justice foundation is important to the department I'd want a 50% balance. That should provide ample time for conceptual linking to underlying justice theory for students to recognize that the do make assumptions about justice, that these assumptions often go unstated and have unintended consequences. In the 50% balance I would make every effort to conceptually link the theory to the more traditionally applied topics.